Nicknamed ‘Psycho’ during his playing career, Stuart Pearce has certainly mellowed as he has gotten older. It’s hard to imagine the tough-tackling left-back of yesteryear withdrawing as meekly as he did after Fabio Capello gave him the elbow in South Africa last week .
Still, Capello’s the boss (at least for the next two weeks) and having served for eight years under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest — who famously whacked Roy Keane, of all people, in the chops — perhaps Psycho has just become de-sensitised to it all.
But with the FA now in crisis, debating whether or not Fabio really is the man to turn England’s fortunes around, could they point to Capello’s treatment of Pearce as a way to end his employment contract early and save themselves a wad full of cash in the process?
Well, before I attempt to answer that, let’s take another look at the video from the Slovenia game, which is currently doing the rounds on Youtube:
As you can see, Fabio knocks Psycho around a fair bit during the game. Then the video shows Pearce standing up and Capello bellowing at him to sit down. Within moments of retaking his seat, however, Capello says “Did you sit down before? Yes? Well, get up!”, and barges him off the bench!
Does Capello’s conduct qualify as workplace bullying?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) defines bullying as: ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.
Acas acknowledges this definition covers a variety of different employment relationships and that ‘behaviour that is considered bullying by one person may be considered firm management by another’ — particularly in the hurly-burly environment of professional football.
Arguments for Capello
Capello’s proponents might argue that he was under a great deal of pressure during the match. England badly underperformed in the opening two matches against USA and Algeria, a win against Slovenia was vital to progress to the last 16, and so England desperately needed a little passion from the sidelines.
Plus it’s fairly standard in the game to see a domineering coach who dishes out the ‘hairdryer treatment’ from time-to-time. (Indeed, some might say doing this is a prerequisite for a successful career — consider, if you will, the examples of Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.) And everyone knows football’s a physical game, so Pearce must be used to a bit of argy-bargy.
On the flip-side, for every great manager who doles out the hairdryer treatment, there are just as many who take a different approach (e.g., Bob Paisley, Bobby Robson, Matt Busby, etc).
And whilst Pearce may have been used to a bit of argy-bargy during his player career, he’s now 48 and plying his trade as a respected football coach — managing England’s under-21 football team no less — which Capello’s conduct did a great deal to undermine.
Finally, take a look at this article written by current England goalkeeper David James, who argues a harder line should be taken against bullying in sport — first and foremost to set an example to younger generations of fans and players.
How should the FA respond to bullying?
Acas provides the following guidance to employers on how to handle bullying:
‘The action to be taken must be reasonable in the light of the facts. In some cases it may be concluded that a penalty is unnecessary or that counselling or training is preferable – the individual may now be more able to accept the need to change their behaviour.
‘Where a penalty is to be imposed, all the circumstances should be considered, including: the employee’s disciplinary and general record; whether the [disciplinary] procedure points to the likely penalty; action taken in previous cases; any explanations and circumstances to be considered and whether the penalty is reasonable.
‘Where bullying or harassment amounts to gross misconduct, dismissal without notice may be appropriate.’
What action should the FA take in this case?
The key question is whether Capello’s conduct qualifies as gross misconduct. In answering this, the size of Capello’s salary and whether he has the ability to manage England are utterly irrelevant.
But the opinion and testimony of Stuart Pearce will count for a lot. Did he find Capello’s behaviour ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting’, an ‘abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure’ him? If he did, the video would constitute sufficient evidence to substantiate any claim of misconduct.
It would, however, still be hard to establish that the bullying was so serious that it rose to a level of gross misconduct. As stated above, football is a macho game and the stakes were high in this match. Rather than dismiss Capello, a court or employment tribunal might decide that a more reasonable course would be to sit him down and outline what behaviour the FA deems acceptable or unacceptable in the workplace, and follow this up with a written summary so that he is left in no doubt for the future.
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